Category Archives: Judaism

April: A Month of Holy Days

BackCollageAs I was looking at the interfaith calendar to see what’s coming up in April, I saw an unusually long list. Of course, Christianity takes up a lot of space with Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter – all major holy days for most Christians.

300px-Lord_Rama-imageBut there are big days coming up for other religions as well. On April 5, Hindus will celebrate Rama Navami, the day when Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, was incarnated in human form.

April 10 is Mahavir Jayanti, the most important festival in the Jain religion, celebrating the birth of Saint Mahavir the founder of Jainism. It is a peaceful religion that cherishes simplicity. Their core values are such that they do not believe in killing even an insect.

shutterstock_268047593April 11-18 is Passover, commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from slavery. Jews will also observe Yom HaShoah beginning at sundown on April 23. Known also as Holocaust and Heroism Day, it is observed as a day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews and five million others who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories, and for the Jewish resistance in that period.

slide_221583_887735_freeThe twelve day Festival of Ridván beginning on April 21 is considered the holiest for members of the Bahá’í Faith. During those dates in 1863, Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, left Baghdad and entered gardens now known as the Garden of Ridván, which means paradise in Arabic.

the_night_journey_kecil-03-03_1xFor Muslims, April 24 is Lailat al Miraj (Night Journey),the day that commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s nighttime journey from Mecca to the ‘Farthest Mosque’ in Jerusalem where he ascended to heaven, was purified, and given the instruction for Muslims to pray five times daily.

All of these are significant holy days. It would be a wonderful time to reach out to neighbors of any of these traditions and acknowledge their sacred time. If you’re in a congregation with a synagogue, mosque, or temple nearby, it could be the perfect opportunity to plan a get-together to learn about one another’s holy day beliefs, customs, foods, etc. We could share our favorite Easter recipes!

Actually, it would be great to expand to May 1 and include the Celtic/Pagan festival of Beltane, which celebrates the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year.

Wow! Interfaith opportunities abound! And then – the intrafaith conversations!

 

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Christmas, Hanukkha, and the Qur’an

479113_gallery_5644449997087_jpg_fa_rszdIf you’re looking for an excellent time to introduce something interfaith-y in your church, that time is NOW!

On Christmas Eve, Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus. And while Christmas isn’t a holy day in Islam, the birth of Jesus is a very big deal. Surah 3:45 in the Qur’an tells the story of the Annunciation this way: [And mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – disting180px-virgin_mary_and_jesus_old_persian_miniatureuished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah].

There are some 71 verses in the Quran that refer to Jesus. And Mary (Maryam‎) is revered as one of he most righteous and greatest women in Islam. She’s actually mentioned more times in the Qur’an than in the New Testament. Here’s an interesting video of the Nativity story. You’ll definitely see some differences from our versions. But what a great topic for discussion! Especially if you invite some Muslim friends to join in.

Also on December 24th is the first night of Hanukkah, the eight-day “festival of lights.” As Christians celebrate the Light that has come into the world, Jews will light the first candle on the llmc9237606menorah. Again, differences between our religions – but similarities too.

If these differences raise questions among the people in your church, hallelujah! Now it’s time to enter the intrafaith conversation.

You can check out my website for more information on how to go about doing that. Or simply buy the book and get a group together to explore what it means to be a faithful Christian and to be in respectful relationship with those of other religious traditions.

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How Can We Talk to ‘Others’ When We Can’t Even Talk Among Ourselves?

aaeaaqaaaaaaaaqbaaaajdrmmmewodrlltmzzmutndiwys1hmmu5lwzjmmzlmjdlogezywThere’s a lot of talk these days about how we need to be able to listen and converse with those who hold differing political opinions from ourselves. I don’t disagree with this. But I do know that it’s easier said than done. We’ve lost the ability to go outside our silos and behave respectfully.

It’s the same in the religious realm. Progressive Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. enjoy one another’s company and often comment that these relationships are much easier than the ones within their respective religions. I know that some evangelical Christians have lamented that, despite their willingness to talk, progressives aren’t interested.At every interfaith gathering I attend, someone inevitably says, “What we really need to have is an intrafaith dialogue.” But we know that this is just as hard to do as the political one.6a00d8341bffb053ef00e54f3dd6558833-500wi

Which is why I like hearing about people and groups working in this area. Back when I was working on my book about Christian intrafaith dialogue, I identified Jesus as  our “elephant in the living room.” I wrote The INTRAfaith Conversation: How Do Christians Talk Among Ourselves about INTERfaith Matters? as a guide to help work through differing ideas and beliefs about Jesus.

hqdefaultBut I also wanted to know about other traditions. When I asked a Jewish friend what issue divided Jews, she immediately replied, “Israel.” So I was delighted this week to learn about a program called iEngage, which brings together differing sides among Jews on the subject of Israel.  Jewish Values and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is a curriculum that can be used by groups who want to gain “greater understanding for the ideals that shape their own political views and a  greater respect and empathy for those who hold different views.”

That is the quintessental mission of the intrafaith conversation!

Every tradition has its internal issues. How can we expect to be in honest dialogue with “the other” when we aren’t able to do it among ourselves? Now more than ever, we need to relearn our conversational skills, get outside our solos, and create peace among ourselves and throughout the world.

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Why Not an Interfaith Advent?!

In my  book, The INTRAfaith Conversation, I suggest times of the church year when doing something with an interfaith flavor might be appropriate. In this month’s issue of The Interfaith Observer, Vicki Garlock gives us another wonderful option.

LIGHT, BIRTH STORIES, AND FEASTS

Interfaith Options for Christians at Advent

By Vicki Garlock

For Christians, another Advent season will soon be upon us. As one of the quintessential periods in the liturgical calendar, it might seem like the wrong time to be thinking about interfaith efforts. It’s a feeling further heightened by the encroachment of numerous secular obligations. Who has time for “the other” right now? I tend to view things from a slightly different perspective, though, and I think Advent offers a great opportunity to bring a bit of interfaith into your household. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Light to the World

An Advent wreath – Photo: VG

An Advent wreath – Photo: VG

For Christians, Advent is a time of anticipation. Many churches mark that time by lighting candles on an Advent wreath for each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas/Jesus’ birth. With all four candles lit by Christmas Eve, the wreath burns brightest just when the nights are at their longest (at least in the Northern hemisphere).

The Advent wreath therefore serves as a visual reminder that Jesus, for many, is a light to the world. This is most clearly stated in the first few verses of the Gospel of John.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. [John 1:1-5, NRSV translation]

Interestingly, the Qur’an also refers to the message of Jesus as a light.

And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel. Therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him, a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. [Surah 5 (al-Maida), verse 46, Yusuf Ali translation]

So an easy way to make your Advent more interfaith is simply to use “Light” as your theme. It’s no accident that Christmas falls around the same time as the winter solstice, and many Advent/Christmas practices are derived from the ancient pagan traditions of Northern Europe. Teaching your kids about the winter solstice through books, recipes, and crafts is a good place to begin.

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The Winter Solstice (written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis) and The Shortest Day (written by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Jesse Reisch) are both good book options. And even though Circle Round (by Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill) was published in 2000, it’s still a great go-to book for crafts and activities. Because pagan traditions are grounded in our relationship with the earth, focus your activities on plants currently available in your geographical area. Create a small home altar and decorate it with winter fruits and greenery. Bake some pumpkin seeds or flavored nuts. You could even teach older kids how to can/freeze food to last through the winter.

Hanukkah is another one of those light-related holidays that happens at this time of the year. Start with one of the many books available. There are board books, like the Hanukkah “touch and feel” book by Roger Priddy and My First Chanukkah by Tomie dePaola, for toddlers. For slightly older kids, you’ll find pop-up books covering the various Hanukkah traditions, like lighting a menorah or spinning a dreidel. One book, Maccabee! (written by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by David Harrington), even portrays the legendary brothers who took the temple back from the Seleucids, as super heroes. Hanukkah books are found in most local libraries, and many craft/discount stores now sell Hanukkah-related products. You can also find resources at your local synagogue, which offers a great excuse to visit with your kids!

Advent Stories from the Islamic Perspective
Another way to make your Advent more interfaith is to read Islamic versions of typical Advent stories. For example, many Muslims are familiar with the story of Mary/Maryam being told she is pregnant with Jesus/Isa (sometimes spelled Eesa). In that account, Hannah, Maryam’s mother, promised to dedicate her unborn child to God/Allah. Years later, as a young woman serving in the temple, Maryam was visited by the angel Gabriel who told her that she would give birth to a son. Some of the story can be found in Surah 19 (called Maryam) of the Qur’an.

He said: I am but a messenger from your Lord that I may bestow on you a pure boy. She said: How shall I have a boy, when no mortal has touched me, nor am I an unchaste woman?” He said: Thus it shall be; your Lord said: It is insignificant for Me; and: We shall assign him as a Sign to humanity, and as a mercy from Us. It was a decreed command. [Surah 19 (Maryam), Verses 19-21, Laleh Bakhtiar translation]

The Qur’an is non-narrative, for the most part, but Muslims do read stories to their kids based on Qur’anic passages. A good, kid-friendly version of Gabriel’s announcement to Maryam, the subsequent birth of Isa, and Isa’s first days can found here. Note how in the Islamic narrative, Isa is able to talk at birth. On the right is a kid-friendly video of the birth story. The video is seven minutes long, but the narrative about Zachariah, Mary, the birth of Jesus, and Jesus’ first words are in the first 5 minutes (before the quiz). For interested adults, a more complete version of the story, with specific excerpts from the Qur’an, can be found here.

Birth Stories from Other Faith Traditions

You can also make your Advent more interfaith by focusing on amazing birth stories from other traditions, several of which include the idea of a virgin birth. One of the most popular comes from the Buddhist tradition. According to that narrative, an elephant with a lotus flower was responsible for Queen Maya’s pregnancy of Gautama Buddha. In most versions, the Buddha takes seven steps as a newborn infant. In some versions, angels appear and the baby Buddha speaks (much like Isa does in the Islamic narrative). The Life of the Buddha site has kid-friendly narratives of Queen Maya’s elephant dream and the Buddha’s birth. Finally, the 8-minute video above, in English, tells the story.

Add an Intrafaith Twist
If an interfaith Advent seems too far removed from the spirit of the season, you might want to focus on various Advent practices within the Christian tradition. One of the most notable is the Nativity Fast observed in the Orthodox tradition from mid-November until Christmas Eve. Here the word “fast” does not mean a total absence of food. Instead, Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil, except on certain days of the week. The specifics, if you’re interested, are complex but fascinating and can be found here.

As many Orthodox moms have discovered, the Nativity Fast diet is closely related to a vegan diet, which means many families break out their vegan recipes for the holiday season. One post offering great Orthodox Advent recipes can be found here, but you can also simply search the internet for vegan recipes that you and your kids might enjoy. Just make sure they don’t require any oil if you really want to stick with the rules!

In Short…
It’s easy to assume that Advent offers few or no opportunities to interact with other faith traditions. After all, the entire focus is on preparing for the arrival of Jesus. However, a little creative thinking reveals several possibilities. During this unsettling time of the year – when the pendulum swings wildly between “traditional Christianity” and “rampant commercialism” – consider a move away from both ends of the continuum, and bring a bit of interfaith into your holiday season.

Pluralism Summer: Week 2

tikkunolam_hpThere’s a conversation in the movie Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, that’s pretty profound for a romantic comedy.
Norah: It reminds me of this part of Judaism that I really like. It’s called ikkun olam. It says that the world’s been broken into pieces and it’s everybody’s job to find them and put them back together again.
Nick: Well maybe we’re the pieces. Maybe we are not supposed to find the pieces. Maybe we are the pieces.

920x920This Sunday, our guest speaker will be Rita Semel, who I often describe as the godmother of the San Francisco interfaith community. Don’t mistake her diminutive size or her age for lack of energy or passion for healing the world. Rita’s raison d’etre, which she received from her Jewish heritage, is tikkun olam (literally “world repair”).

Rita – a co-founder of the United Religions Initiative, the San Francisco Interfaith Council, and the Interfaith Center at the Preisdio – will address the question: how does your tradition inform how you think about politics?

It’s a real honor to have this dsitinguished guest as part of our summer series. In light of recent events, I hope many of you will come to hear what this wise elder has to say as we seek to heal our broken hearts and our broken world.

5:00 pm
First United Lutheran Chiruch
2097 Turk Street (at Lyon)
San Francisco, CA

For more information, contact me.

Pluralism Sunday began some years ago as an initiative of progressivechristianity.org.
But at First United we decided that one Sunday wasn’t enough. So now, for the fourth year, we’re embarking on a summer of interfaith exploration. Each week a speaker from a different tradition will address the question of religion and politics within our regular Sunday service.

Our service, while rooted in our Christian tradition, is decidedly interspiritual. For a description of what it means to be an interspiritual Christian, read my blog post here.

Everyone is welcome – those of all faiths and of no faith. Visitors are invited to participate in the service to the extent that you are comfortable.

 

Are the Days of Doing Evangelism Over?

I read an interesting blog post the other day called Why Progressive Christians Can’t Evangelize, which critiques the accompaniment model adopted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In Global Mission for the 21st Century, the ELCA defines accompaniment as:
walking together in a solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. The basis for this accompaniment, or what the New Testament calls koinonia, is found in the God-human relationship in which God accompanies us in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

The blog author, however questions whether most of us have seriously reflected on the who, what, why, and whether of Christian mission. In other words: why do we think it’s a good thing to share the gospel in the first place? And while he doesn’t disagree with the need to be sensitive to our history of colonialism, he does warn that “our fear of colonialism is performed daily in our tepid to non-existent faith-sharing.”

It was an interesting post. But what followed made it even more so. In the “Comments,” a reader confessed to his or her own struggle with the issue:
 I firmly base my life on the death and resurrection of Jesus (or try to), and believe that through my baptism into Christ’s death, I will share in a resurrection like his. HOWEVER, I am not convinced that everyone needs to be a Christian . . . if I meet, say, a Buddhist, who has found meaning, and a spiritual path, and is exhibiting “good fruits,” why should I attempt to “evangelize” her?

And that is the INTRAfaith question!

As Asian theologian C. S. Song has written: “The 

problem of Christian mission is the problem of Christian theology. Reconstruction of 

Christian theology must then precede reconstruction of Christian mission.”

Documents such as “Global Mission for the 21st Century” and “Accompaniment” that are available from my denomination (and I am sure from others) are important teaching tools. But I don’t know how many of our congregations are using them.

The conversation needs to happen at the grass roots. And a fine place to start is with the experiences that most of us have had with people of other religions and cultures. The question is no longer “if I meet a Buddhist (or a Jew or a Muslim, etc.),” but when I do . . . then how am I to think about evangelism?

When you go out with your evangelism team to knock on doors on your neighborhood and a man in a turban answers – or a woman in a hijab – or a man in a yarmulke – or a monk in saffron robe, what are you going to say?

There are, of course, several theological options. And you’ll probably find a variety in your own church. It’s not only an interesting question for pastors to ponder, it’s a necessary one for the whole church as we ponder together the place of Christianity in a multi-religious world.

Why Christians Should Not Host Their Own Passover Seders

“What to do, then, if you are a Christian who wants to be more like Christ, as well as to learn more about your cultural roots? Practice restraint. One of the privileges that comes with being part of the majority culture is that nobody is likely to call you out on your cultural appropriation. So, call yourself out. Don’t host a seder. Not even if you only invite other Christians. Especially not if you only invite other Christians.”

A good (and timely) article about appropriate – not appropriating – ways of observing Passover.
Read the full article here 

New Voices in the Conversation Part 3: Atheists and Humanists

 

th It is all too common for those of us in the church to disregard people in these categories. We might dismiss them with “There are no atheists in foxholes” and similar sayings. And while I struggle to find ways of communicating my understandings of the Divine to those whose unbelief is more of a reaction to the abuses of church and religion, I also recognize that there are many good, thoughtful, moral people who do not feel the need for a Higher Power. Yet more and more of them are joining the interfaith conversation (you see why interfaith and interreligious are problematic terms!).

During the summer months, we welcome guests from different religious and non-religious traditions to speak at our church on a specific topic. Two years ago the subject was caring for creation. Most of our guests were easy to describe, e.g. Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim. But one speaker, was not so easy to categorize. He didn’t like using any labels at all, but finally settled on “free-thinking naturalist.” Beginning his talk, he jokingly said that he had deliberately avoided the “A” word when referring to himself.

Atheism is a tricky subject. It used to be simple: an atheist was someone who didn’t believe in God. Then many of us read or heard Marcus Borg describe his many conversations with university students. He recounts,

“Every term, one or more of them says to me after class, ‘This is all very interesting, but I have a problem every time you use the word ‘God’ because, you see’- here there’s usually a pause and a deep breath- ‘I really don’t believe in God.’ I always respond the same way: ‘Tell me about the God you don’t believe in.’” [1]

As Borg tells it, the student then describes a version of God perhaps learned in Sunday school, from parents or simply from popular culture. When Borg says, “Well, I don’t believe in that God either,”[2] a space opens up for conversation about other possible ways of understanding the Divine.

As more people discover that there are other ways of thinking about their concept of God, the old definition of “not believing” becomes more problematic. Also, we are becoming more familiar with religions that are non-theistic (hence a-theistic), such as Buddhism, which has no concept of a creator God or divine intercessor. It is not so much that Buddhists do not believe in God (as if a conscious negative choice) as the fact that those are simply not aspects of their tradition.

Karen Armstrong has this to say:

“Atheism is often a transitional state: Jews, Christians, and Muslims were all called atheists by their pagan contemporaries because they had adopted a revolutionary notion of divinity and transcendence. The people who have been dubbed atheists over the years have always denied a particular conception of the divine. But is the God who is rejected by atheists today the God of the patriarchs, the God of the prophets, the God of the philosophers, the God of the mystics, or the God of the eighteenth-century deists? All these deities have been venerated, but they are very different from one another. Perhaps modern atheism is a similar denial of a God that is no longer adequate to the problems of our time.”[3]

Of course there are those who do not believe in any kind of Divine being, no matter how we might reimagine what that means. Many of these folks are also interested in being part of interreligious conversations. Henry, a long-time member of the board at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio is a co-founder of an organization in Berkeley called Ahimsa (the Sanskrit word meaning ‘nonviolence’). One of the goals of the organization is “to encourage dialogues and public forums on issues which bridge spirituality and science and society.”[4] Henry is also an avowed atheist, yet appreciates deeply the opportunity to work on projects together with others who want to be peacemakers in the world.

I contrast Chris and Henry with militant atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher, who denounce the God they don’t believe in, but are never willing to listen to or discuss any other possibilities. I consider them to be as intractable as any fundamentalist of any religion.

I will admit that I never got the consternation that many Christians had about humanists (or as one elderly church member called them hoomanists). I thought humanists were pretty good people. I do now understand why they are considered by some to be fair game for Christian conversion: they value human agency and critical thinking over faith and doctrine. It could be said that humanism is a kinder, gentler atheism. As Nathan Phelps has said, “What I am is a proud humanist. Atheism says what I don’t accept, humanism says what I do.”[5]

But these terms are very fluid. Another guest in our speaker series was Vanessa, who is very involved in the interfaith scene and describes herself (at least for today, she said) Original-Happy-Human-w100as a Secular Humanist. However, she said that others have called her a “faitheist.” This was the first I had heard of the term, which comes from the book Faitheist: How an Atheist Found CommonGround with the Religious by Chris Stedman.[6] Stedman’s point is that atheists should be involved in respectful dialogue with those of religious persuasion. Vanessa said, however, that being called a “faitheist” was not a compliment. The Urban Dictionary defines it as “an atheist who is ‘soft’ on religious belief, and tolerant of even the worst intellectual and moral excesses of religion; an atheist accommodationist.”[7] For some reason, it gives me satisfaction to know that there are factions even among the non-believers!

What I have learned from listening to those on the interfaith scene who describe themselves with the “A” word or with other isms is that these are people of good will and great love for humanity and the world. I welcome the opportunity to be in dialogue. Right now I have members in my congregation with family members who are declared atheists. I would love to have the “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in” conversation with them – not in order to convince them that they are wrong, but to see where they really fit in the wide range of what atheism means today. And what “God” means today.

 

FOR REFLECTION:

  • Do you know someone who is an atheist? Have you ever had or could you have a conversation with him or her about what that means?
  • How do you think it is possible for an atheist, agnostic or humanist can participate in interreligious dialogue?

 

SUGGESTED READING:

  • Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious by Chris Stedman[11]

  

[1] Borg, Marcus, The Heart of Christianity. Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. New York: HarperCollins, 2003, 68-69.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “A New Axial Age: Karen Armstrong on the History—and the Future—of God” by Jessica Roemischer, http://www.adishakti.org/_/a_new_axial_age_by_karen_armstrong.htm (accessed February 26, 2016).

[4] http://ahimsaberkeley.org (accessed February 26, 2016).

[5] Nathan Phelps is the son of Westboro Baptist Church founder, Fred Phelps. He responded to my inquiry that this quote was something he had posted on Facebook and now has become a meme.

[6] Stedman, Chris, How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. 2012.

[7] Urban Dictionary, s.v. “faitheist,” http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=faitheist (accessed February 26, 2016).

 

[8] Trent, Dana, Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Baptist Minister Married a Hindu Monk, Nashville, TN: Fresh Air Books, 2013.

[9] Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann. “Welcoming the Spiritually Independent.” patheos.com.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dailylifeasspiritualpractice/2013/09/welcoming-the-spiritually-independent/ (accessed February 26, 2016).

[10] Shapiro, Rami, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent. Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths, 2013.

[11] Stedman, Chris, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.

New Voices in the Conversation Part 2: Multiple Belonging (Hybrid Spirituality)

The phenomenon of “multiple religious belonging” is now deeply engrained in American Culture – Francis X. Clooney

51dfJ8lOEVL._SY445_The first time I heard someone referred to as a Jewbu, I thought it was a pejorative term. But it’s not. Jewbu (or Jubu or Bu-Jew) is simply is the abbreviation for a Jewish Buddhist. This fairly recent term can refer to either a Buddhist who grew up Jewish but no longer practices Judaism (“This is true of a staggeringly high percentage of American Buddhist leaders; well over half by most counts,” according to Rabbi Julian Sinclair) or a Buddhist who still practices and identifies with Judaism.

UnknownSylvia Boorstein, a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA, is a good example of this category. Her autobiographical memoir, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist, places her squarely in the camp of those with multiple belongings. Her story of coming to terms with her identity as both a Jew and a Buddhist – and her deepened love for Judaism – is an engaging, easy read for anyone wanting an introduction to this phenomenon.

buddha-christUnfortunately, Christianity doesn’t have a catchy term to describe its hybrids (Chrisbu or Bu-Chris is just not as mellifluous as Jubu!). But there are those who are multiple belongers. For example, Father Gregory Mayers, coordinator of the East-West Meditation program at Mercy Center retreat center in Burlingame, CA, is both a Redemptorist priest and Associate Roshi of the Sanbô-Kyôdan Religious Foundation in Kamakura, Japan. Catholic theologian Paul Knitter, author of Without Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian, considers himself to be an adherent of both Christianity and Buddhism.

It may be that the popularity of Buddhism has not caused a lot of consternation in our churches because Buddhism is not a theistic religion (not all Buddhists would even call it a religion at all). So now we have to wade into deeper waters to examine more controversial examples of multiple belonging.

Many years ago a member of my congregation told me that she had become a Muslim. When I asked her how she reconciled that with being a Christian, she said that she saw no problems with it. At the time, I couldn’t understand that. Now I see that she was merely ahead of her time.

past-holmesIn 2007, Episcopal priest Ann Redding Holmes declared herself to be a Muslim after a profound experience of Muslim prayer. However, she didn’t abandon her Christian identity, saying that her acceptance of Islam was “not an automatic abandonment of Christianity. For many, it is. But it doesn’t have to be.” In response to those who said that the two traditions are mutually exclusive, she said, “I just don’t agree.” The Episcopal Church did not agree with her and she was defrocked in 2009. In interviews, Redding has argued that her views about Jesus “fit well in the range of Christianity.”

As strange as this story may seem, there are more and more examples of multiple belonging on the religious scene, as S. Wesley Ariarajah puts it, “throwing spanners into the smoothly oiled works of religious particularities.” But, reminding us that we are looking through Western lenses, he reports that multiple belonging is not a new phenomenon in Asia:
It has been a common feature among the peoples especially in North Asia. Many of them have fund ways of holding together two or more of religious traditions like Confucianism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Shamanism, Christianity etc. as tributaries that feed their overall religious consciousness and practice. 

Catherine Cornille, editor of Many Mansions: Multiple Religious Belonging and Christian Identity agrees:
It may be argued that . . . religion in Europe, America and Australia is just coming to terms with a practice or a form of religiosity that has been prevalent for ages in most of the rest of the world, and especially in the East.

For many of our clergy and church members, learning how to relate to those who claim multiple belonging may seem to be a very steep learning curve. And to be honest, it is. It involves looking carefully at our assumptions about what it means to be a Christian, to listen to the stories of those who have different assumptions, and to participate in a religious quest that is ongoing and evolving.

For example, a member of my congregation admitted that she considered herself to be a Christian-Pagan. When I shared her story with a friend who is a Wiccan elder, he laughed and told me that Wicca is actually losing some of its appeal among disenfranchised Christians. Once, he said, Wicca was attractive to those looking for an earth-based, environment-friendly belief system and practice. But as Christianity has been slowly leaving behind its earth/ spirit dualism and rediscovering its “roots” in theologians such as St. Francis of Assisi and Hildegard of Bingen, it is retaining some of those who in the past would have become Pagan.

It is clearly a new day for Christianity!

 

Sinclair, Rabbi Julian. “Jubu.” thejc.com. http://www.thejc.com/judaism/jewish-words/jubu (accessed February 26, 2016)

Tu, Janet I. “Episcopal Priest Ann Holmes Redding has been defrocked.” seattletimes.com. http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2008961581_webdefrocked01m.html (accessed February 24, 2016).

Zimmerman, Cathy. “Ann Holmes, A Christian and a Muslim, to Share Message at St. Stephens.” tdn.com http://tdn.com/lifestyles/ann-holmes-a-christian-and-a-muslim-to-share-message/article_de097bc0-1727-11e2-a92d-0019bb2963f4.html?print=true&cid=print (accessed February 24, 2016).

Ariarajah, S. Wesley. “Religious Diversity and Interfaith Relations in a Global Age.” flinders.edu.au. http://www.flinders.edu.au/oasisfiles/chaplains/geoff_papers/ariarajah.pdf

Hidden Inheritance: A Lutheran Pastor’s Discovery of Her Jewish Roots

51f-80kdFpL._AA160_I just finished reading Lutheran pastor Heidi Neumark’s book, Hidden Inheritance: Family Secrets, Memory, and Faith. And I was deeply affected by on it several different levels. Her story begins when, out of the blue, she learns that her grandparents had been Jewish. Not only that, they’d been sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp by the Nazis, where her grandfather died. The revelation was even more confounding because her father had been (she thought) a life-long Lutheran: baptized, confirmed, and very active in his congregation. Pr. Neumark, raised in this setting, went on to seminary and has served as a Lutheran pastor for 30 years. 

The book is powerful, just on the merits of a heart-wrenching story of the Shoah (her preferred designation) and its aftermath. It also stirred things up for me personally, a Lutheran pastor with a name that had been changed generations ago from the “Jewish” spelling. I’ve never been able to get any good answers about this, just speculations, and any relatives who might have known more are now gone. Could there be a Jewish great-grandmother or great-grandfather on my family tree? Quite possibly. As difficult a journey that Neumark had to undertake, I envy her a bit in the discoveries and self-discoveries she experienced.

The third level of interest is the intrafaith questions Neumark raises. Her first chapter is entitled “Crossing Over,” and I smile because I learned my intrafaith methodology from John S. Dunne’s The Way of All the Earth:
What seems to be occurring is a phenomenon we might call ‘passing over,’ passing from one culture to another, from one way of life to another, from one religion to another. Passing over is a shifting of standpoint, a going over to the standpoint of another culture, another way of life, another religion. It is followed by an equal and opposite process we might call ‘coming back,’ coming back with new insight to one’s own culture, one’s own way of life, one’s own religion. Passing over and coming back, it seems, is the spiritual adventure of our time.

Neumark certainly has had a crossing/ passing over and coming back experience, but I would call it a far deeper experience than a spiritual adventure. More like a spiritual earthquake.

Take the sacrament of Holy Communion. While visiting ancestral villages in Germany, she learned that in 1510, Neumark Jews were expelled under the charge of desecrating the host. She laments,”How is it possible that I, descendant of these Jewish outcasts, stand at the altar every Sunday, saying prayers of blessing over bread and wine and repeating the words, “The body of Christ given for you” “The blood of Christ shed for you” as I place the host in the hands of my congregants? I’ve done it for 30 years now without thinking of those slaughtered Jews, my namesake Jews, who died over a perversion of this very sacrament. Now, I cannot do it without their painful presence beside me.”

And on the sacrament of Baptism. “As a pastor who has perfumed hundreds baptisms, rejoicing at every single one, I find myself in a very unexpected and undesirable place. My grandparents drowned their Judaism so their children might rise as newly created Germans, pure as any Aryan. Baptism can even be seen as an assent to Nazi propaganda; being a Jew is no good. What can we say when . . . baptism itself is a demonic act that defies God? How can I unreservedly find my identity at the font?”

At one point, she asks, “With this legacy, how can I be a Lutheran pastor?”

Pastor Neumark does not leave us in the depths of this despair. She allows us to listen in as she works through this painful “coming back” to Christianity. But when she says, “I’m getting stuck here and I wish the Church would pause to get stuck with me,” I want to say that I wish we would, too.

Recovering and honoring the Jewish roots of our Christianity is long overdue. For Lutherans, acknowledging and understanding the dark side of our history, is a necessity that should never be glossed over. We should view our scriptures and rituals taking these into account.

 I feel privileged to have read Pastor Neumark’s story. But I also believe that it isn’t necessary for all of us to have similar life-changing revelations in order to bring our “coming back” insights, questions, struggles, and learnings into our churches.

This is how I find I can be a Lutheran pastor. And I’m glad that Heidi Neumark is one, too!